Case Study: Seagate's Barracuda and Baydel's O/ESR RAID system

Cinesite, a London-based subsidiary of Kodak, liases with firms Seagate and Baydel to boost its hard drive capacity and retain...

Cinesite, a London-based subsidiary of Kodak, liases with firms Seagate and Baydel to boost its hard drive capacity and retain its lead in special-effects technology

There's more to Hollywood glamour than meets the eye. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes. Just ask the IS team at Cinesite, which is acutely aware that its next special-effects offer is only as good as its current satisfied client.

These people don't lie awake at night worrying about potential high-tech problems. With several terabytes of critical data stored on Barracuda drives inside Baydel's O/ESR RAID cabinets, Cinesite's cadre of artists is free to create startling images that thrill moviegoers worldwide.

"If we fail to deliver on a project, we have extreme difficulties getting other clients through the door," says Kevin Wheatley, technical services manager at Cinesite's Soho-based headquarters. "For that reason, we've invested in what we consider to be a very reliable system."

The proof of Wheatley's observation lies in the proverbial pudding. Cinesite, a subsidiary of Kodak, has become a leader in special-effects technology. A sample of the company's creative work can be seen in box office smashes such as Tomorrow Never Dies, Mission Impossible, SpaceJam and Casper.

An efficient system for data storage

Cinesite, based in London's Soho, has installed a state-of-the-art storage to offer greater reliability. Seagate's Barracuda provides users of workstations, disk arrays, file servers and supercomputers with unmatched performance. With spindle speeds of 7,200rpm, the Barracuda family boasts MR heads, embedded servo, PRML channel and a 7.1msec average seek time.

Baydel, based in Leatherhead, Surrey, develops and manufactures high-performance, high-availability cross-platform RAID storage subsystems and is Europe's largest independent manufacturer of storage products. The company's flagship O/ESR RAIDER-5 array is in global use in some of the world's most demanding and data-intensive environments.

It seems natural, then, that Baydel ensures maximum quality in its cabinets with Seagate storage instruments. "There is a natural synergy between Baydel and Seagate," says Baydel's managing director, Jim Bailey. "Seagate is the recognised technology leader in disk drive production, and Baydel is the recognised leader in utilising disk drive technology."

Enhancing FX Imagery

Cinesite stores images range in size from 12Mb to 100Mb. Between 250 and 1,000 images live in four Baydel RAID configurations at any one time. "We probably have a few hundred shots on each project," says Wheatley. "There's no such thing as enough disk space."

To attain the highest performance possible, Wheatley has striped the Baydel boxes together. The result is that Cinesite has boosted its sustained transfer rate from 88Mbit/s to a superfast 106Mbit/s. "It's really the only way to check and see if what we have done is correct," says Wheatley, adding that he is able to attain the same video resolution as HDTV.

Cinesite stripes 3 Ultra SCSI Baydel boxes to realise true data throughput for a real-time playback. If the company wanted, it could go well over 200Mbit/s because it has the appropriate hardware configurations. The artists can then play back their sequences in real time at full resolution, which reveals flaws and imperfections that they may miss if they were looking just frame by frame. Wheatley explains that his company's goal is to push each drive to its limit, rather than continually adding cabinets with more and more drives.

"It's not just the cost of the disk drives," he says. "It's also the space that the technology occupies. Rents in Soho are expensive."

Cinesite, which transitioned from Micropolis drives to Seagate for quality-related issues, knows there is no margin for error in their line of work. "There's no hiding place for a bad block of information," says Wheatley, adding that 300Gb of data were used for a single sequence in this year's science-fiction thriller Lost in Space. "You can't catch up if a disk goes down. We run on tight deadlines."

The bottom line is that there is a seamless marriage between Seagate, Baydel and Cinesite when it comes to a final product. "If you don't know there have been special effects in a movie, we've done our job correctly," says Wheatley.

Roger Gann

Read more on Integration software and middleware